Europe's Capital of Anti-Semitism Budapest Experiences A New Wave of Hate
Part 4: 'Heil Hitler, Professor Tamas'
Things won't get that bad -- at least that was what Jewish intellectual Gaspar Miklos Tamas, 61, used to think. But he changed his mind one day last year, when a group of men in black uniforms and riding boots appeared outside his house in downtown Budapest, shouting "Heil Hitler, Professor Tamas, how are you?"
Then came the spring election, bringing with it the decline of the liberal leftist camp, for which Tamas, a philosophy professor, once held a seat in parliament. There was also Orban's two-thirds majority in parliament that suddenly makes everything possible, even a new constitution.
Tamas hasn't been invited to appear on any television programs since the election. He has heard that 16 of the 23 employees in his research institute at the Academy of Sciences are to be let go. He is one of the 16.
Surrounded by his books in his dilapidated house, he reflects on what went wrong in Budapest. He talks about the problems the right wing has used to its benefit, including high unemployment, exploitation by the post-communists, many of whom profited from the changes that followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and the poor job opportunities for students.
And yet, he says, even all of this cannot explain what is happening. For Tamas, the tacit agreement between Fidesz and Jobbik is "a declaration of poverty by the system" from which it may never recover. The fact that the socialists lost control of all Hungary's major towns and cities, with the exception of Szeged, in the recent municipal elections is exactly what he expected. "Well then, good night Hungary!" he says.
Awash with Culture
The evening sun bathes the city in a soft, forgiving light. On the surface, everything here is tolerant and multicultural. At the Sziget music festival, there are even Roma bands playing. And where else is Bartok more spirited, Liszt more haunting or Wagner more civilized than in the magnificent state opera?
Budapest is awash with culture -- literally. Pensioners play chess in the elegant Szechenyi thermal baths. Antique hunters bargain over art deco lamps in the stores on the Falk Miksa street. Some visitors lose themselves perusing the exhibits from the dictatorship period in the House of Terror.
Meanwhile, the motorbike club Goi, named for the Yiddish word for non-Jews, circle the parliament building in their provocative Greater Hungary jackets. And in a studio not far away, Istvan Kovacs shoots porn films. Even when it comes to hardcore, the city likes to be the best: suspenders and combat boots, sexual war games and fascistic political pornography. It's two sides of the same coin.
Around 80,000 Hungarian Jews still live in the city of 1.7 million. The synagogue on Dohany Street is considered the largest in Europe. In some of the derelict houses in the district, young people have created so-called "ruin pubs."
Feelings of Dislocation
The Simpla is one such backyard bar, where cheap beer is sipped while sitting on old car seats listening to the sound of Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa. The clientele is a mixture of brokers with their laptops and wannabe existential poets. Some of the drinkers here make fun of the "far-right idiots." Others explain that they now prefer to wear baseball caps over their yarmulkes and that their parents have packed their bags just in case. They feel dislocated, like foreigners in their own country.
The country's most famous writer has not lived in Hungary for years. Imre Kertész, 80, an Auschwitz survivor and author of "Fateless," grew up in Budapest. He is tough on his compatriots. "Right-wing extremists and anti-Semites are in charge," he told German newspaper Die Welt in a 2009 interview. "The old burdens of Hungary, her dishonesty and her propensity to repress things, are thriving more than ever. Hungary and the war, Hungary and fascism, Hungary and socialism: Nothing has been worked through, everything is painted over with pretty colors. Budapest is a city without a memory."
Kertész now lives in the German capital. "Why? It's very simple. Because for a Jewish writer, life is better in Berlin than in Budapest."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Budapest Experiences A New Wave of Hate
- Part 2: Similarities to the End of the Weimar Republic
- Part 3: Rescuing Hungary from a Global Conspiracy
- Part 4: 'Heil Hitler, Professor Tamas'